Respiratory Infections |Prevent Upper Respiratory Infections

Submitted by Dr. Chris Spooner

The common cold is a fact of life during the winter months. By and large, upper respiratory infections usually run their course in a week or two but not without some discomfort. When viewed from the perspective of their overall effect on the population at large, they do have a significant risk for the elderly and chronically ill. They also have a significant economic impact, with colds causing more loss of productivity than any other infection. To date, there are no effective methods to consistently prevent colds, however a 1990 study published in the Annals of Medicine (1) attempted to determine if Sauna could prevent colds. In this study twenty-five volunteers were treated with regular sauna sessions once or twice a week with 25 controls abstaining from this or comparable procedures.

Sauna sessions were carried out as follows:

  1. Warm shower then drying off,
  2. 8-12min sitting or lying in the sauna room and
  3. 15 min cooling with cold water and resting (room temperature 21“C).

This procedure was repeated two or three times, with an additional 20 min resting phase at the end of the session.

Sauna bathing was not done when the subject had a common cold or for a week after.

In both groups the frequency, duration and severity of common colds were recorded for six months. There were significantly fewer episodes of common cold in the sauna group. This was found particularly during the last three months of the study period when the incidence was roughly halved compared to controls. The mean duration and average severity of common colds did not differ significantly between the groups. It was concluded that regular sauna bathing reduces the incidence of common colds.

The results suggest that the frequency of common colds and the number of common cold days can be reduced by regular sauna bathing. It appears to take three months of sauna for the benefit to kick in. The major weakness of the study is that it was not random, however, the two groups were remarkably comparable.

The mechanisms by which sauna bathing could prevent common colds are not known. Hyperthermia induces DNA-synthesis (2) and increases immunoglobulins and leucocytes in the blood (3), changes which might contribute to increased protection against viral infections.

Given that sauna bathing is a relatively cheap, enjoyable activity with almost no harmful side effects and few contraindications (4), our results are promising, if preliminary.